The Apple-IBM Deal: No, Hell Didn’t Freeze Over

Steve Jobs Flips off IBM

Steve Jobs Flips off IBM

If you have even a rudimentary knowledge of the history of the personal computer, you know that during the 1980′s Apple and IBM were considered mortal enemies. In a fight to the death for dominance of the personal computer market, it was the upstart Apple who created the personal computer revolution vs the old guard IBM who was the 800-pound gorilla in the technology industry. To this day there are still perceptions of Apple and IBM as distinct opposites in the technology world. This is even though a lot of time has passed since the PC wars of the 80′s and things have changed quite a bit. So when Apple and IBM announced a strategic partnership it wasn’t surprising that many people were somewhat confused. How in the world could these two companies form a strategic partnership?

If you know the history of technology as well as I do, the announcement wasn’t actually all that surprising. While at first IBM was in fact Apple’s antagonist, Microsoft actually became the common enemy of both companies. Let me give you a brief background.

Yes, it was IBM that came out with the “IBM PC” that ran a DOS operating system made by Microsoft. But due to shortsightedness on IBM’s part, along with some strategic maneuvers on Microsoft’s part, Microsoft became the big winner in the personal computer market, crushing every personal computer maker that didn’t run MS-DOS (and later Windows). Apple was virtually the only personal computer company to survive, albeit just barely. At the same time, the PC revolution crushed nearly every old-school technology company that was prominent during the mainframe era of the 60′s and 70′s. Even IBM itself was nearly put out of business by the onslaught of IBM-compatible PC clones running Microsoft operating systems.

What saved Apple was the return of Steve Jobs and the subsequent expansion of Apple’s technology offerings into mobile devices such as the iPod, followed later by the iPhone and iPad, along with the revenues of the iTunes and App Stores. What saved IBM was their refocusing on their corporate services offerings back in the 1990′s. In fact, IBM was the first big name to get out of the PC business in 2004, when they sold their PC division to Lenovo. Only after Apple ushered in The New World of Technology with the iPhone and iPad, drastically changing the technology market, did other names such as Dell and HP begin to seriously target the corporate services market that IBM had long dominated. Both Apple and IBM realized that the PC market was beyond direct competition with Microsoft, but there were bigger things in store. Apple focused on the consumer market and IBM focused on enterprise services.

Fast-forward to present day and the deal really makes perfect sense. Apple is the dominant force in the consumer and small business market due to the iPhone and iPad. IBM commands a lot of influence in the corporate world. IBM wants to grow with the mobile device revolution and perhaps due to the lessons learned in the 1980′s, knows that there is plenty of money to be made in offering services instead of trying to create their own devices. Apple would love to get more enterprise business and knows that partnering with such a well-respected name like IBM is probably the quickest way to achieve growth.

So it really is just a very simple strategic alliance between two companies with a lot to gain between them. Yes, it seems a little funny at first, but the reality is that both companies are very mature and powerful and stand to get more powerful together. What was your first reaction when hearing this announcement?

The Facebook Messenger App is NOT the Devil!

The Facebook Messenger App - Could it be SATAN!? No, just some sensationalist claims gone viral.

The Facebook Messenger App – Could it be SATAN!? No, just some sensationalist claims gone viral.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are well aware of all the dire warnings about Facebook’s “new” Messenger app floating around the Internet. At first I wasn’t going to write anything about it, but it seems that the story continues to get bigger. So I feel it necessary to discuss the warnings and how it all got started.

An article written by Nick Russo for a Houston radio station claimed that the Facebook Messenger app would have permissions to do all sorts of privacy-invading things if you installed it. For some reason, the article went viral. Well, it probably went viral for the same reason people send chain letters about virus hoaxes. It had just enough sensationalism mixed in with an authoritative tone to seem credible. The name of Nick’s radio station is “The Bull,” and perhaps that should have been an indication to people reading it that his article was for the most part, BS.

I’m not sure why this radio personality felt it necessary to pretend to be a technology expert. The very first time I read the article I knew there was something just not right. I tried to research his claims for some friends who were asking and for the life of me I couldn’t find anything about this guy stating that he had any professional experience besides working in radio. There’s nothing wrong with working in radio, but if you’re going to use your platform to disseminate information, please be sure you know what you’re talking about! As far as I’ve seen, Nick has not yet written an apology for his fear-mongering article, but rather has shifted into portraying himself as some sort of privacy advocate. Once again, I’m all for privacy advocates, but if you’re going to advocate – know of what you speak beyond just a cursory scratching of the surface.

Nick Russo made a lot of outlandish claims regarding what the Facebook Messenger app could do. The first problem with his claims were that he didn’t make a distinction between smartphones. I knew right away when reading his article was that there was no way Apple would allow an app like that to get into their App Store. Certainly it might be possible with an Android-based phone, however unlikely it would be, but Apple puts every single app submitted to their store through an approval process. Every. Single. App. Yeah, there’s no chance that Apple would allow Facebook Messenger, or any other app, to do the following as claimed by Nick Russo:

  • change or alter your connection to the Internet or cell service … for its own reasons without telling you.
  • send text messages to your contacts on your behalf … when they want
  • see through your lens on your phone whenever they want .. listen to what you’re saying via your microphone if they choose to
  • read your phone’s call log, including info about incoming and outgoing calls … Facebook will know all of this
  • read e-mails you’ve sent and take information from them to use for their own gain.
  • read personal profile information stored on your device … addresses, personal info, pictures or anything else
  • Facebook will now have a tally of all the apps you use, how often you use them and what information you keep or exchange on those apps.

It’s not like Apple iPhones are some off-the-wall brand that can be safely overlooked when discussing smartphones. They are just a *little* popular, to put it lightly. So to write an article like this with such extreme claims and not know about Apple’s approval process is simply irresponsible. But even if we were to ignore iPhones for the moment, does anyone really think that Facebook would want to do most of what is claimed above to their users? Perhaps Mr. Russo should have put in a call to someone at Facebook to ask a few questions first? Or at least do a tiny little bit of research on this thing called the Internet before publishing an article like this? I bet even the resident PC guy at “The Bull” probably could have warned Nick that his claims were pretty far out and to be careful before publishing his article. But alas, Mr. Russo took a little sliver of knowledge and believed he knew more than he did – running off like “The Bull” in a china shop and starting a viral tidal wave in the process.

To be fair, in theory – extreme theory, what Nick Russo claims above could possibly be accomplished by highly malicious apps running on some smartphone platforms. But Facebook Messenger isn’t a malicious app. And Nick must have found that out because in his next article he states, “I’ve now learned that both the New Facebook Messenger App and the original Facebook app have many of the SAME permissions.” Yes, I’m sure he did learn a few things once his article went viral! But perhaps those things should have been learned BEFORE publishing! As it turns out, the Facebook Messenger app (which isn’t new, but has been out for years), does virtually nothing different than any other similar app, including the normal Facebook app that billions of people already use. Oops!

Apparently once he found that out, Nick choose to portray himself as a privacy advocate, championing the idea that he made people more aware of the privacy choices on their phones. Fair enough, but let’s call a spade a spade. If he really cared about people’s privacy choices, he would have done some research and consulted with technology experts so that he could have written a balanced article. Any good that he has done has been completely obscured by the hysteria he created. Advocacy by accident at best. Fear-mongering at worst.

Bottom line, there are many articles that debunk Nick’s claims. Here is another article discussing some of Nick’s claims as “myths”. Facebook even posted an article discussing the privacy concerns. So the moral of the story is that we can’t believe everything we read – especially when it comes to technology topics. While we may not like the fact that Facebook is making everyone use a separate app for Messenger, spreading misinformation isn’t helping anybody.

Jumping Off a 35-Foot Cliff and Facing One’s Fears

35-foot Cliff

That’s the cliff I jumped off. Yes, from the top.

Other than my immediate family, not many people are aware that I have a bit of a fear of heights. Now it’s not a debilitating “phobia” as others may actually suffer from, but I certainly get strong feelings of anxiousness when looking out from tall buildings or over railings. Sometimes even driving over long or tall bridges gives me “the willies”. It’s enough of a fear that I will make a little effort to avoid it when possible, but not so much that it actually interferes with “normal” situations.

I had the good fortune to take a lake vacation for the week of July 4th with some friends on Lake Norfolk in Arkansas. One of the activities available is jumping off a cliff into the lake. There is a short section about 10-12 feet to jump off and then there is an approximately 35-foot jump from the top. Joining my kids, I had no problem jumping off the 10-foot section. But we were all curious about the 35-foot jump. My 12-year old daughter especially, who is a big fan of the Divergent series, wanted to try the jump to emulate the initiation of the Dauntless faction. We went up to the top section and took a look. Surprisingly, the view over the edge didn’t make the hair on the back of my neck stand up – not that there is actually any hair on the back of my neck, but you know the feeling! So my daughter and I talked and we both decided to face our fears and take the leap.

I asked my daughter if she wanted me to go first and of course she did. So I started psyching myself up to make the leap. Now that I had committed to making the jump, the view over the edge suddenly looked a little more intimidating! I got myself up to the edge and began visualizing my leap. Ironically I had just been talking to my daughters the day before about fear and the fight or flight response. Now we got to put it into action. Besides the anxiety at jumping off a cliff, there was some fear of the falling sensation and also about hitting the water correctly so it wouldn’t hurt. My conscious mind was realizing that I had watched many other people jump before me and nobody was getting hurt. All these things raced through my mind as I tried to urge myself to make the jump. I looked down at all the people who were in boats watching me and the other jumpers. I looked down at the water. Then my hands and arms literally got numb. Not like tingly but seriously prickly-numb like electricity was flowing through them. I started shaking out my arms to ward off the sensation. It was like my body couldn’t believe what my brain was contemplating. After a few seconds this numbness subsided and I was ready to go. Now the hard part was making my legs actually jump. I was mentally ready for the jump, but it’s one thing to physically force yourself to leap over a cliff. I went for it once but stopped. My legs simply wouldn’t do what I was commanding them to do. Then I started talking to myself loudly trying to muster up the last bit of courage to force myself to go through with it. It took a few more seconds but I finally felt the moment and I jumped …

… I was flying through the air …

The hardest part was making the jump. The rest was easy. Not that I had enough time to think about anything but trying to hit the water feet-first. It was over so quickly that I don’t really remember anything except the view of my legs clearing the cliff – that and hitting the water. I mostly landed correctly and splashdown really didn’t hurt. Although who knows how much adrenaline was pumping through my veins!

I made room for my daughter to jump. Unlike me who took several minutes to finally leap over the cliff, she hesitated just once but then went for it. It was nice to have a shared experience like that, especially when conquering something that is one of my only fears. I rode high on that the rest of the day. It’s not every day we get to push our own limits and I’m glad I was able to pass this particular test.

Sharia Law? Hobby Lobby Ain’t a Government, It’s a Private Business

george takei

I want equal rights for everyone as long as I agree with those rights.

I appreciate people like George Takei who have used successfully used social media to leverage their celebrity status into large followings. Especially when they not only use their platform for entertaining, but also to comment on social issues. Sticking out one’s neck in support of a cause they believe in is a risky thing to do, but I believe it is a worthwhile endeavor to speak out, especially against establishment. However, at times it seems that people like Takei need to educate themselves a little before speaking, for they highlight their ignorance of the issues.

The recent Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court has set social media on fire, with people on one side claiming this is a defeat for women’s rights. George Takei wrote an article, Hobby Lobby Ain’t A Church, It’s A For Profit Business, in which he asks what the decision would have been if Hobby Lobby were run by Muslims and they attempted to enforce Sharia Law on their employees. While at first the comparison may appear relevant (Christian beliefs vs Muslim beliefs), the difference between the two are so big that it borders on intentional distortion of the facts, assuming Takei truly understands what rights are.

Sharia law, as any system of laws, require government enforcement to be of any influence. Or at least a group of people claiming authority using violent force, or the threat of violent force, to coerce people into compliance. To my knowledge, Hobby Lobby does not force anyone to work for them. Nor do they force anyone to purchase from them. Nor do they stop any of their employees from purchasing anything, let alone birth control. They simply are choosing not to offer certain types of birth control on the insurance benefits they offer their employees based on their moral conviction.

Takei, as do many others on his side of the debate, go into various arguments attempting to show hypocrisy with Hobby Lobby’s beliefs regarding what they choose to offer or invest in. Others I’ve read similarly go into supposed scientific arguments why Hobby Lobby isn’t being consistent with their beliefs. The bottom line is it doesn’t matter. Hobby Lobby is a business owned by free individuals in a free market. Unless one has an ownership interest in a particular company, one should have no say into how a company runs their business, no matter how silly or illogical one believes they are acting. Just as one should not have a say into how another chooses to live their life, something Takei strongly crusades for.

Takei is a fervent advocate of gay rights and has been especially vocal regarding the issue of gay marriage. He even states in this article, “Our personal beliefs stop at the end of our noses, and we should therefore keep it out of other people’s business — and bedrooms.” The hypocrisy in this statement is practically self-evident! He literally states that our personal beliefs should be kept out of other people’s business. Yet here he is advocating that the Supreme Court should have upheld a law that literally sticks the nose of government squarely into other people’s businesses. A law that is based upon the arbitrary belief that a business is somehow obligated to offer a particular set of insurance benefits as defined by others.

The real problem here is that we have a system where certain people believe that health insurance is a “right.” There is also a correlated belief out there that employers are the anointed dispensers of health insurance for the country. Since certain people believe that health insurance is a “right,” and these same people generally believe that employers have an obligation to provide health insurance for their employees, it seems to make sense that employers should offer health insurance that covers virtually every potential need a person could have. This was the motivation behind the so-called Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which attempted to force employers to offer exactly this type of health insurance. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled against this aspect of the law, it should be no surprise that those supported this law are up in arms. It flies in the face of their personal morality.

Therein lies the problem. People like George Takei don’t understand what rights are. I will write on this more extensively in a future article, but for now it is suffice to say that true and natural rights do not involve infringing the rights of others. In this case, the example is clear. People have the right to purchase birth control. A purchase transaction is a voluntary exchange between the buyer and the seller. People also have the right to purchase health insurance. Once again, the transaction is voluntary. The idea that employers are obligated to offer a particular type of health insurance is advocating a coerced transaction. Whether or not the employer actually wants to offer a particular type of insurance, the advocates of health insurance as a “right” believe it is justified and moral to use the threat of government violence to make sure an employer delivers an arbitrarily defined set of insurance – even if this defined set is against the morality of the employer. They believe their definition of morality is superior to any other morality. Exercising one’s true and natural rights does not involve the infringing of the rights of others. Otherwise, it is not a right. Especially when the attempt to exercise this so-called right requires violence or the threat of violence.

To be clear, the most hypocritical aspect to this whole situation is that just as Sharia law is an arbitrary system of morals, the idea that health insurance is a right, as well as a raft of related ideas, are also an arbitrary set of morals. Accusing Hobby Lobby of the equivalent of Sharia law ignores the fact that the accusers are attempting to use real government violence to enforce their own arbitrary set of moralities. So who are the bad guys here? Free individuals running their own privately-owned business according to their beliefs, or the people attempting to use government to coerce others to comply with a particular set of moralities? George Takei and others need to take a look in the mirror. If they want others to keep their beliefs out of their bedrooms, they need to make sure to keep their beliefs out of others’ businesses. You may be a big celebrity, but that doesn’t give you the authority to extend your personal beliefs beyond the end of your own nose.

IRS: Bad Sectors or Bad Intentions?

obama_open_governmentIn my previous article, I mentioned that all the attention paid to the details of Lois Lerner’s hard drive crash was just a red herring. I believe that the IRS attempting to use the hard drive crash excuse is simply the least important link in the chain of a comprehensive “innocence by incompetence” campaign. However, as weak of an excuse as it is for the IRS, the technical details of Lois Lerner’s hard drive could actually could end up being a smoking gun if we investigate far enough.

As I mentioned in my last article, I’ve seen more than my fair share of hard drive failures in the course of my 20 year professional career. I am very familiar with the functioning of hard drives, both in their mechanical and digital operations. So allow me to offer a quick primer on hard drive failure.

Any hard drive failure is commonly referred to as a hard drive “crash”. Technically the term “crash” has a very specific meaning in reference to hard drives – a head crash, if you care to know – but non-technical people may use the term “crash” to refer to any number of hard drive problems. Usually most people will say a hard drive crashed if the failure prevents data being read from the drive by normal methods and/or the computer will no longer boot from that drive. However, there are many less serious problems that could seem like a hard drive “crash” to non-technical users and restoring the drive to normal operation in those cases would not be difficult for a technology professional. More serious failures involve problems with the physical drive mechanism and may require the drive be sent to a data recovery specialist or forensic lab with highly sophisticated equipment to retrieve data.

In my experience, hard drive failures are unfortunately far too common. I have no problem believing that a hard drive crash could have befallen the computer used by Lois Lerner. Sure the timing seems questionable, but from a purely technical standpoint, this isn’t the smoking gun by itself. We must begin by questioning the specifics of the actual drive failure. Was it an actual head crash or a less serious glitch? Unfortunately the IRS has reported that the hard drive in question has already been recycled so no further attempts at recovery can be made, nor can the true cause of the hard drive failure be verified. All we know is that an e-mail from an IT manager to Lois Lerner in August 2011 said, “The sectors on the hard drive were bad which made your data unrecoverable.”

At this point I don’t believe the technical diagnosis of the hard drive failure nor the details of the recovery efforts made by the IRS IT department have been made public. These details need to be uncovered because if we know the diagnosis of the failure of the hard drive, we can begin to understand if the drive and data on it was intentionally destroyed. Alternately, we can also begin to deduce if the IRS IT department was using proper procedures during the recovery attempt and if there was any intentional wrongdoing within the IT department – or simply further incompetence.

According to the e-mail trail provided after Lerner’s hard drive failed, the data on the drive was deemed so important that the IRS IT department even went to the unusual lengths of sending the hard drive to their criminal investigation division’s forensic lab so they could attempt data recovery. A forensic lab often is able to piece together some data from a failed drive even if all the data on a drive is not recoverable. For a forensic lab to not be able to recover any data at all is highly unusual. This indicates that either the drive was wiped clean using advanced data deletion technology or it suffered extreme damage. Extreme damage is a rare occurrence for normal hard drive failures. Because the drive was sent to a criminal forensic lab, in theory the forensic specialists should have been able to tell if the hard drive was intentionally damaged or if there was anything unusual about the condition of the drive.

Lerner’s hard drive was reported as crashed on June 13, 2011. It wasn’t sent to the forensic lab until August 5, 2011. That’s a long time. Talk to any technology professional who is competent in data recovery and they will tell you the longer a failed drive is running in an attempt to recover data, the more damage that can be done. What was the IRS IT department doing that it took two months before they determined the drive was so bad it needed a data recovery lab? Especially if it was later determined that the “sectors on the hard drive were bad”. That type of failure should have been fairly obvious early on. Regardless, “bad sectors” do not take out all the data on a hard drive unless virtually the entire drive was damaged. In theory it could be possible that the efforts over two months by the IRS IT department could have damaged the drive beyond the point of data recovery even by a forensic lab. That would be a fairly inexcusable case of incompetence – or an intentional effort to scrub data from the drive. Either way it’s not a show of good faith on the IRS’s part.

Bottom line, there appears to be a chain of IT employees at the IRS that had access to the hard drive at any point in time, as well as “HP experts” and forensic specialists at the IRS’s criminal investigation division. If there is in fact a cover-up, the weak link in the chain may very well be any one of these IT people. Assuming they are not as politically motivated as IRS officials, it may be possible to get expert testimony from any one or more of the IT people that worked with and examined Lois Lerner’s hard drive that would conclude the drive had been tampered with or intentionally damaged. At the very least, we could find out why no data could be retrieved at all.

My hope is that if Lois Lerner’s hard drive is a smoking gun, one of the IT people involved will be brave enough to testify to this. The world could use another Edward Snowden right about now.

IRS: Innocence by Incompetency

obama-foia-2009Ever since the news broke a little over a week ago that the IRS lost e-mails connected to Lois Lerner because of a computer hard drive crash, I’ve been wanting to write an article addressing the technical aspects of this situation. However, the story kept growing as each day went by so I waited. As I sit down to begin this article late in the evening of June 23rd, I’ve just spent almost 4 hours watching the latest hearing live on CSPAN-2. Yes, you can’t get much geekier than spending an evening watching a government hearing discussing hard drives, backup tapes, and IT department policy. But I am who I am and the intersection of technology and politics is my wheelhouse. In all of history, there probably hasn’t been a more famous political story revolving around technology issues. Because of the size and scope of the various technical issues involved, this article will be the first of a likely series of articles tackling each major point in this long chain of events.

I almost feel that I don’t need to write these articles because it seems even technology laypeople instinctively know there is something highly suspicious about this situation. In this day and age of advanced technology, a simple hard drive crash simply doesn’t seem like a justified excuse to lose an important trail of digital communication. This is especially true for a government bureaucracy that purportedly symbolizes accurate record keeping. However, I still think a thorough review of the technology and management issues are worth examining.

As a technology professional, I’ve seen more than my fair share of hard drive failures. In my experience, hard drive failures are far too common, so I have no problem believing that a hard drive crash could have befallen the computer used by Lois Lerner. However, looking at the big picture, the hard drive failure really shouldn’t be relevant. All the hubbub about a hard drive crash is truly a red herring. Nonetheless, I will address the hard drive issue in my next article.

Any organization with halfway competent IT management that is required to preserve e-mails will have an e-mail archiving system in place. They will not defer responsibility of preserving required communications to individual employees – unless, of course, the negligence is intentional. One very important idea behind archiving is that e-mail communication may be used for criminal investigations among other things and it should be obvious that employees may decide not to preserve e-mails that are incriminating. The reality is that it is much easier to archive messages as they pass through a central server than it is to attempt to store and retrieve them from individual computers. And of course, automated centralized archiving eliminates the possibility of employees “losing” e-mails to cover their asses. To not archive messages at the server level is literally “so 1990′s”.

There are many archiving products and services available that work with common e-mail servers. It is well-known that the IRS uses the Microsoft Exchange platform, easily the most popular e-mail system for large enterprises. Therefore the IRS would have had its pick of any number of e-mail archiving systems to choose from. In fact, the IRS did have a contract with a company called Sonasoft that specializes in e-mail archiving (their tagline is “Email Archiving Done Right”). This contract was terminated at the end of fiscal year 2011 (August 31st), which seems highly unusual given the timing of the Lois Lerner hard drive failure and the supposedly lost e-mails in June of 2011. It was testified that the IRS only contracted with Sonasoft to archive the e-mails of the Chief Counsel within the IRS, which covered just 3,000 employees, not all 90,000. This also seems highly unusual to select such a small subset of employees. If archiving the e-mails of 3,000 IRS employees is deemed important, why not all 90,000 employees? At the very least, shouldn’t the heads of major divisions within the IRS, such as Lois Lerner, have had automated e-mail archiving as well? If nothing else, just from a productivity standpoint, the loss of e-mails for key personnel would be highly detrimental and an e-mail archiving system would be well worth the cost for the protection it provides, not to mention compliance with federal regulations in case of wrongdoing.

From a technical standpoint, the costs to archive the e-mails of all employees would not have been significantly greater. As with many technology systems, the greatest costs are in the initial implementation and baseline infrastructure, not in scaling of said systems. While archiving the volume of e-mail generated from 90,000 people would require a large amount of storage, it is not an impossible task. There are many companies in the United States that have hundreds of thousands of employees and are required to archive e-mails in order to comply with federal regulations. Or that being said, we know the NSA has enourmous data centers that are more than capable of monitoring and archiving communications on hyper-massive scale. Certainly it wouldn’t be beyond the capability of another gigantic federal agency such as the IRS to properly manage their own required records. The agency that has been charged with enforcing the president’s signature legislation shouldn’t have a problem archiving emails of a piddly 90,000 accounts, should they? They are in charge of maintaining records of hundreds of millions of American citizens, after all.

But that’s exactly what the current IRS chief wants you to believe. That the IRS’s technology infrastructure plus the policies and procedures that manages it are so woefully antiquated and out-of-date, they just couldn’t prioritize the archiving of e-mail messages. This is true even though e-mail messages are considered official records by the IRS’s own handbook and they are required to preserve them. The excuse has been given that properly archiving all the e-mails of the agency would cost between $10-$30 million and they just didn’t have the proper funding. I would love to know where this figure was arrived at because this seems like an extraordinarily high number, given that they were already contracting with a company that was doing e-mail archiving and scaling it shouldn’t have approached anywhere near these costs. Even several hundred terabytes of storage didn’t cost anywhere near $10 million in 2011.

What the IRS wants the American public to accept is that they can’t be proven guilty because they were incompetent. The truth of the matter, speaking as a technology expert with 20 years of professional experience, is given the laughable policies and procedures the IRS had in place, the chain of events as they describe them are entirely plausible. The burning question is whether or not these policies were in place due truly to incompetence or for convenient plausible deniability. At this point, we can only assume they are “innocent by incompetence.” But this can not be acceptable. If anything, the hypocrisy implicated here is far too much for anyone but the most ardent authoritarian to embrace. The IRS, nor would most law enforcement agencies, accept the excuse that a technical problem resulted in the destruction of evidence. In fact, the term “spoliation of evidence” is a legal concept that allows for courts to assume that evidence destroyed for any reason (whether claimed “accidental” or otherwise) would have been detrimental to the defense and assume the worst. Given the stringent federal regulations that require publicly held corporations to archive years worth of e-mails, it would be a significant case of “do as I say, not as I do” statist double-standards to allow the IRS to get away with this highly convenient set of circumstances.

While many apologists claim that the scandal is unfairly targeting Barack Obama, the reality is that he is the Chief Executive and that the IRS is a agency of the Executive Branch. That alone should prompt any leader of integrity to take charge and demand answers. But what is especially disturbing is that Obama was elected under the auspices of “Hope and Change” and one of those key tenets was “transparent and open government.” In fact, one of his first acts as president was to release presidential memorandums addressing the free flow of information from government agencies, regardless of the protection of personal interests. So for Obama to turn a blind eye on this situation is an egregious violation of his own proclamations. Do we really want a president that doesn’t stand by his own promises?

While “innocence by incompetency” may keep certain IRS figures out of jail or the president from being impeached, it won’t help the IRS in the long run. As I mentioned before, even technology laypeople realize there is something extraordinary about this situation. People from all political persuasions are incredulous at the arrogance and audacity shown by the IRS management over having their credibility questioned. We the people can not stand and let this pass. If the IRS is wanting to prove just how incompetent they really are, they need to have this incompetence severely punished. Instead of rewarding them by increasing their budget, we need to drastically reduce the power this agency has over the American people. The first step is to eliminate or rescind any further increases in power the IRS receives, such as that dubiously authorized by Obamacare. The ultimate step would be to abolish the IRS completely. While such a thought seemed like fantasy only a short time ago, the unprecedented nature of this situation has people seriously questioning the justified existence of such an agency and their legitimate role in a free society.

What steps do you think should be taken against the IRS for their seeming incompetency?

Windows is the Elephant in the Room

elephantI just read an article by Ed Bott of ZDNet discussing how Microsoft’s marketing for the Surface Pro 3 has backfired. Basically the article states that since Microsoft was comparing the upcoming Surface Pro 3 to a MacBook Air and also stating that the Surface Pro 3 can replace a laptop, the tech journalists that attempted to replace their MacBook Airs with a Surface Pro 3 were less than happy with their experience. The article however attempts to explain why these journalists’s experiences aren’t representative of an average user’s needs. That basically a tech journalist’s workflow is far too complex as compared to an average user who would have a MacBook. So the readers of the tech journalists reviews were being done an injustice because their needs are far too different from a tech journalist’s. Many of the comments on the article were in agreement with the author, attempting to rationalize the poor reviews of the Surface Pro 3 as a laptop replacement. Finally, the author states that “Getting the tech press to step outside of an Apple-centric bubble and imagine a world where people might choose a Windows laptop over a MacBook is the biggest challenge of all.”

That last statement would be utterly hilarious if it didn’t completely ignore the long history of the PC era until the last few years. Until Apple broke through with the iPhone and then ended the PC era with the iPad, Apple was virtually ignored among tech journalists. Perhaps the tech press is Apple-centric for a good reason. They are embracing The New World of Technology because they finally have a real choice as compared to 20 years of Microsoft domination.

It amazes me how many people, tech journalists and otherwise, still believe that comparing a Windows PC to a Mac is, well, an “apples-to-apples” comparison. Let’s face it, people who are using laptops in any “work” environment are more like tech journalists than not. For Microsoft to compare their hardware to Apple’s hardware is completely missing the point and they got exactly what they deserved.

It’s like judging a woman completely on her “specs”. There’s a lot more to a woman than her physical appearance, no matter what kind of perceived “performance” you may get out of it. The reality is that what’s on the inside is a lot more important because ultimately that is where most of the work actually takes place. You’re never going to make the most of that “hardware” if you can’t manage the “software” effectively. Similarly, when you compare the different platforms, a Mac is simply a more friendly, easy-to-use, and therefore productive work environment. Microsoft simply does not create the level of user experience refinements that Apple does. That’s been true since 1984. Let’s not pretend here. The disaster that is Windows 8 should be proof enough of that.

Those who are used to the Mac will definitely have a hard time switching to Windows. Hell, Windows users are having a hard time switching to Windows 8! But it seems as if some people, Ed Bott included, are simply writing it off as a “transitional” problem. It’s a lot more than that. Sure, those who are used to Windows will have a learning curve switching to a Mac, but from my experience, most people get comfortable within a week and then start to realize the advantages the Mac OS brings to them. My favorite quote from someone who switched to a Mac after years of Windows use was “This is how computing should be.” On the contrary, those who try to switch from a Mac to Windows rarely ever get used to Windows and will go back to a Mac as soon as they can.

It’s not just a matter of “what you’re used to”. I’ve seen far too many examples of this play out from average, everyday people who are clients, friends, or friends of clients. When people have a chance to experience both Windows and the Mac, overwhelmingly they choose a Mac. I think we’re seeing this play out in the larger market as consumers are making their own purchase decisions more and more. Most PC purchases were, and still are to a great degree, made in mass by big companies. The fact that the Mac market continues to grow while the overall PC market shrinks is one sign of this.

The other part that doesn’t make sense is people saying that tech journalists aren’t a good comparison to an average person. That’s absolutely true, but not for the reasons being bandied about by Ed Bott or certain commenters. If anyone had the ability to make a transition to Windows from a Mac, it would be a tech journalist – someone who presumably is very comfortable with technology. If a tech journalist has trouble switching to a Surface Pro 3, then what chance in hell does an average consumer have? Usually tech journalists do not give enough attention to the needs of an average user. They usually let their tech bias slant their view towards the hardware specs and not enough attention to the ease-of-use. Ed Bott’s article is a perfect example of that. The fact that several tech journalists panned the Surface Pro 3 should be a warning heeded by people thinking of purchasing one. The reality is that either the device is too complex for an average user or that the device isn’t robust enough for a professional. That’s not a good reality for Microsoft.

As I’ve said, I’ve seen the switching scenario play out hundreds of times over the last 20+ years in both directions. I’ve had many clients that used a Mac at one point, then were forced to switch to a PC by their work environment. Years later, they still wished for a Mac and eventually made their own purchase decision going back. I have *never* seen this scenario with someone wanting to go back to Windows. Usually, as the saying goes, once you go Mac you never go back. Especially given that you can run Windows in Boot Camp or a virtual machine so the old compatibility argument has been long gone.

What’s truly ironic is that I see people switching to the Mac because they say that compared to Windows 8, they think the Mac is more like “Windows”. Ouch. Seriously Ouch.

Microsoft can try to compare their hardware to Apple’s hardware all day long, but they’re ignoring the elephant in the room that is Windows.

Fighting the Technology Backlash!

social-media-activism-1I’m not usually one to let things easily bother me. It takes just the right provocation to actually make me feel anything resembling anger. However, when I watched the viral video “Look Up” by Gary Turk, it pushed my buttons. Sure, there has been much written about people getting lost in technology such as this article called Dear Mom On The iPhone that gets passed around every so often. There is definitely a simmering backlash out there against all the new technology introduced in the last several years. But there was something about “Look Up” that was just exasperating to me. It went too far. I couldn’t let it go. I knew that it was time to fight back against the technology backlash. So to quote Samuel L. Jackson from Jurassic Park, “Hold on to your butts”, because things are about to get real!

Frankly, I’m sick and tired of all the whining and complaining regarding The New World of Technology that we live in today. Whether it’s someone bitching about people taking too many pictures or people looking at their phones too much or people spending too much time on Facebook or people playing too many video games, the level of antagonism towards technology in general has gone far enough. I’ve had it. Especially when a lot of this teeth-gnashing is being done on social media, being posted on YouTube, or being written about on a freaking blog!

I get it. Technology is changing things. Very rapidly. I’ve written about it before – that the last 6 or so years has seen technology disrupt our society unlike at any time before. Change is scary, I know. People like to complain about change. This isn’t new. But usually the stereotypical scene here is a couple of old people sitting on their rockers grumbling about their ailments and how those young whippersnappers just don’t have any respect. Now it seems that young is the new old and anyone over the age of 30 is eligible for old-timer syndrome.

Now let me have some empathy here first. Yes, there are many people out there that are in fact clinically addicted to their mobile devices or video games or using social media. They should seek out professional help. Then there are legions of people that are not truly addicted but probably spend an inordinate amount of time using technology of some sort. People that are in this situation should be encouraged to practice some moderation. But there’s a difference between gently encouraging someone and browbeating them into submission like “Look Up” tries to do. The reality is that true encouragement will work a lot better than bullying someone into compliance. In fact, attempting to harass someone will likely cause the opposite reaction, as anyone can tell you that forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest. To those that like to complain, what does it really matter to you anyway? Focus your energies on improving yourself and quit trying to run everyone else’s lives. You’re only making yourself seem totally out of touch and simply marginalizing your influence.

The fact that technology is so mobile now allows people to interact with it on an almost constant basis. Where in the past technology virtually chained us to our desks, we now use our technology out in public like never before. This is where I think those with curmudgeon-like tendencies get their knickers all up in a twist. It’s out there in their faces now. Everywhere one turns they can see The New World of Technology. Not only in real-life but all over traditional media now too. They can’t get away from it. The old human nature of being afraid of what we don’t understand kicks in. I feel their pain. But frankly, those of us who are making use of new technology are tired of listening to the grumbling. If you don’t like it, then don’t use it but leave the rest of us alone.

Perhaps the greatest thing about mobile technology is that it gives us access to the Internet anywhere we are. There is so much we can do with the Internet from communication to research. Literally it is the world at our fingertips. Saying someone is addicted to the Internet is like saying someone is addicted to communication. It’s like saying someone is addicted to learning. It’s like saying someone is addicted to life.

Now as I said before, there are people that probably do spend too much time using technology. For those who think that’s a big problem, just have some patience. Society as a whole behaves very similarly to how individuals behave – just on a longer, drawn-out scale. Visualize a kid who has just received a new toy that they’ve been wanting for a really long time. At first they seem addicted to it. They’re constantly playing with it. Maybe they even go too far and play with it when they really shouldn’t be or stay up way past bedtime because they don’t want to stop playing. Maybe they even sneak it into places they shouldn’t. But as with most things, they eventually get out of the “shiny new toy” phase and stop playing with it as much. Or as they mature in general they learn moderation. How the parents react to shiny new toy syndrome will go a long way in how a child will develop. If the parents come down hard, it usually only makes the child want to play with the toy more. If the parents chastise the child, the child will still want to play with the toy, but now they’ll go to lengths to hide their play. Either way, the child loses some respect for the parents as they feel the parents just don’t understand and aren’t making an effort to do so. However, if the parent takes the time to understand why a child loves a toy so dearly and patiently teaches the child that sometimes there can be too much of a good thing, the child will probably be more likely to learn and practice moderation going forward.

I believe society is in the shiny new toy phase with The New World of Technology. It has moved so fast we are still figuring out the new rules of the game. Or more precisely, we are making them up as we go along. To make things harder, technology continues to change right out from under us. Just when it seems we have a handle on things, new services like Pinterest or Instagram added to the constant stream of new devices being introduced totally change the nature of the beast. Everyone, especially those complaining the loudest, better buckle up because as a technology professional I guarantee you we’re just getting started.

Instead of complaining, I would encourage you to look at the bright side of all this new technology.

Playing games stimulates imagination and provides a motivation for learning. Video games truly are no different than traditional games in this regard, except that the evolving nature of video games has opened up exciting new opportunities. In many ways, I believe video games are a new form of classic storytelling. Where older generations revered their books and movies, younger generations hold the same adoration for the adventures they find in their video games. People today don’t need to just read about exciting worlds, they can virtually be part of them. I know it can be hard for older generations to grasp this concept. Video games seem so childish and a waste of time to many. However, chastising the playing of video games only serves to prove just how out of touch you are.

Spending time on social media is a true and valid form of communication. Just because it is a new way to communicate doesn’t make it any less legitimate. In a world where a lack of communication is endemic, discouraging communication is highly counterproductive. Sharing our experiences through photos is another form of communication. Just because you’d rather “take it all in,” don’t try to diminish how others prefer to capture their memories. Again, you only serve to remove yourself from their relevancy.

At one point in our history, we could only communicate with others who were in our immediate vicinity. Then the telephone changed all that. We could literally get in touch with anyone across town or around the world. I’m sure many people back when the telephone was being introduced thought that phone calls were not a natural thing and spending too much time on the phone was bad. Growing up in the 80′s, I know the stereotype was teenage girls getting yelled at by their parents to get off the phone, so this “problem” spanned generations. Today a lot of voice conversation has been replaced by texting and social media, but the core complaint still hangs around.

Social media, just like the telephone before it, does in fact allow people to connect. Just because it isn’t necessarily “in real life” doesn’t mean those connections aren’t real. In fact, social media allows more people to connect in meaningful ways. Just like the telephone could allow family members who lived in different countries to verbally communicate where it was impossible previously, social media allows people to connect with people from around the block or around the world in ways that were not possible prior. With mobile devices, this level of communication is now possible anywhere, anytime. Sure, we are still figuring out the etiquette for this new medium. But instead of complaining, help set the new rules. Be open-minded and understanding and you’ll get a lot further.

The problem I have with works like Gary Turk’s “Look Up” is that it is extremely condescending. While I understand he’s just trying to get people to not miss out on the world around them, the tone is quite patronizing and feels like an anti-technology hit piece. I picked out a few quotes as examples:

“This media called social is anything but”

“All this technology we have it’s just an illusion”

“When you step away from this device of delusion”

“We’re a generation of idiots, smart phones and dumb people”

“Look up from your phone, shut down the display
Stop watching this video, live life the real way.”

There’s no balance in his video. Watching it you’d think that technology was destroying the human race and we need to rid the world of this menace. But most reasonable people know otherwise. Whether it was listening to rock n’ roll, watching TV, playing pinball, playing arcade games, or whatever the new thing was at the time, I’m certain many people remember being told that those things were bad by the older generations of their youth. Which only makes it more surprising that they are turning around and doing the same to the young generations of today. The main difference is now technology has moved so rapidly, that otherwise young generations are already feeling passed by. What is truly interesting is that chronological age isn’t even the true gauge of potential curmudgeon status. What is seemingly more important is how comfortable one is with technology. People in their 30′s and 40′s show a wide range of technology experience so it isn’t unheard of for younger individuals to act like stereotypical grumpy old nags towards others who are actually older. In fact, Gary Turk is only 27. Act your age, Gary!

As a father of two girls and someone who runs their own business, I can say for certain that The New World of Technology and social media has expanded my opportunity for connecting. Besides having gained a lot of business directly from contacts made through social media, I have connected with a lot of people I would have never otherwise had the chance. Plus I’ve reconnected with many people from my past that I would not likely had much of a opportunity to do so thorough other means. So where many people bemoan the idea that people are not communicating because of new technology, in reality I believe it has expanded communication for the better. Just because you don’t recognize it as such or are too afraid to learn more doesn’t mean it is wrong or the not “the real way”. Sure, there can be too much of a good thing, but remember most people will learn moderation with their shiny new toy. I’m not alone in this way of thinking. Here is a great rebuttal to the Dear Mom on the iPhone article I mentioned called, “Dear Mom Judging the Mom on Her iPhone.”

Technology has driven our civilization forward since the dawn of time. Whether it was stone tools or quantum computing, the technology that humans create virtually define us. To take such a hardline stance on new technology only serves to create divisions where none need to exist. Whereas older generations may feel a level of ambivalence or even animosity to new ways of living and communicating, younger generations have no such reservations and devour these new methods with abandon. They have no reason to feel otherwise. Young people strongly identify with their technology and the way they use it. But when they are told that the things they enjoy aren’t “the right way”, they’ll push back. They’ll lose respect for those that attack the way they live their lives. Eventually they’ll stop listening. Choose your attitude carefully or risk becoming irrelevant.

Let’s celebrate human achievement and what technology can do for us instead of making videos that call us “a generations of idiots” with “smart phones and dumb people”.

#FightTheBacklash

March 12th was NOT the Birthday of “The Internet”

world-wide-web-birthdayA lot of news stories circulated yesterday celebrating “the birthday of the Internet”. I’m about to get a little nitpicky here, but guess what, it’s my blog so I can do what I want. If anything, March 12th can be considered the birthday of the World Wide Web, but the Internet has been in existence in various forms since 1969. So for technical correctness, please stop saying this is the 25th anniversary of “the Internet”. I know that for many of us, the web – for all practical purposes – IS the Internet, but let’s try to be just a little historically correct, shall we?

That being said, I’m about to get even more nitpicky. March 12th, 1989 is the date that Tim Berners-Lee first put forth a proposal to his employer, CERN, for developing a new way of linking and sharing information over the Internet (just to reiterate my point above, the Internet had to already BE in existence in order to create a World Wide Web). However I feel it is a stretch to say that this proposal, while it was the genesis of the World Wide Web, is the actual birthday of the web. This proposal put forth the very basic ideas that would grow into the web. However, if one reads the proposal, it is much more of a request to research the feasibility of such a system and to develop a future plan to implement such a system. In fact, at the end of the proposal, Berners-Lee specifically calls out that a second phase would be required to set up a real system at CERN. To boot, this proposal was never actually officially accepted, but Berner-Lee’s boss allowed him to work on it as a side project.

So what do I consider the real birthday of the World Wide Web? It’s hard to say specifically, but here are some important dates:

  • November 12, 1990: This is the date that Tim Berners-Lee put forth another proposal detailing the technical specification for actually developing a system that he called “WorldWideWeb”. This proposal was accepted and the real work of creating the web was put into motion. This could more accurately be called the birthday of the web.
  • February 26, 1991: On this date Berners-Lee released the first web browser to his colleagues within CERN. At this point the web was only available within CERN, but the fact that people were browsing is significant.
  • May 17, 1991: The first machine set up as a web server to the public Internet is set up by Tim Berners-Lee. Truly, this could be considered the birthday of the web as it was the first time anyone in the world (who had Internet access, of course) could feasibly browse the web. Not that there was much information of interest available that day. From this point forward, web servers were set up in organizations all over the world and development of web browsers for all computer operating systems began in earnest.
  • April 30, 1993: The source code of the World Wide Web protocols are made public domain by CERN. Tim Berners-Lee urged CERN to do this so that it would be freely available to anyone who wanted to set up a web site. Had this not happened, it would have changed the history of the web as the de-facto standard for organizing and sharing information on the Internet. Some people consider this the real birth of the World Wide Web and the moment the Internet began to creep into the mainstream.

Now, I’m not going to argue much with the people behind the Web at 25 movement, since Tim Berners-Lee himself is supportive of this project, even thought I might disagree with the particulars. They say he “invented” the web in 1989, but that’s like saying Edison invented the light bulb before he actually got it working. It’s one thing to come up with an idea, it’s another to actually make it reality. I still say that the “invention” or “birth” of the World Wide Web took place in late 1990/early 1991 as the dates above show. But if people want to celebrate the idea that the web was born on March 12, 1989, that’s fine, especially since the man who created it isn’t arguing. In my research as a technology historian, I know that many dates in history are hard to pin down exactly, especially when it comes to technology development. In fact, the dates I list above may not be entirely accurate depending on how people define technology releases and which source is claiming what. So at least March 12, 1989 does point to written documentation of the first reference to the project that would eventually become the World Wide Web. But please, at least call it for what it is, not “the birthday of the Internet”.

Christians and Jim Crow and Gays, Oh Myyy!

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.
- a quote often (mis)attributed to Voltaire and Patrick Henry

we_reserve_the_right_signI’ll be honest. I hesitated to write this article. I hesitated because at times I will be defending people whose actions I disagree with. I also know that gay rights is a very hotly-debated topic right now so take the risk of offending some people. In fact, I risk offending people on both sides of the issue! However, for all the rhetoric going back and forth I think most people are missing the bigger picture. And the bigger picture is very important to consider in the framework of the debates going on right now. So in the interest of adding to the dialogue and hopefully presenting a fresh viewpoint, I am just going to put my thoughts out there and let come what may. But first, let me tell you a personal story.

My father died of cancer when he was 50 years young. Most likely the cancer was caused by his many years of smoking. I was only 29 when he passed 10 years ago. He died on the same day my second daughter was born. Besides my own loss, smoking robbed my daughters of a grandfather, my wife of a father-in-law, and my mom of a husband. More than most people, I have every reason to hate the practice of smoking. So several years ago when laws to ban smoking in “public” places were being debated in my area, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that I would have been supportive of passing those laws. However, then as now, I put my own personal feelings aside for the sake of freedom. While I certainly am supportive of and applaud any establishment that chooses to not allow smoking on their property, I do not support a government-enforced ban. I knew then as I know now that even if I vehemently disagree with someone’s actions, a free society does not attempt to enforce their own morality on a person’s life or business. Rather, we make our viewpoints known by actually expressing our thoughts to those who run businesses and ultimately with our dollar vote.

Prior to any legally-enforced smoking bans I was more likely to visit restaurants that were voluntarily non-smoking. And I generally did not visit bars or places where smokers hung out. I made my thoughts on smoking known to anyone who would listen. But I wasn’t going to advocate for the use of government violence to enforce a ban on smoking. As a business owner I knew that how I choose to run my business, just as I choose to live my life, is my right. I wouldn’t tolerate anyone else telling me how to run my business or live my life, so I wasn’t about to support doing the same to others, no matter how much I couldn’t stand the decisions they were making.

Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too.
- Voltaire (he actually did say this – in French of course!)

Fast forward to today and the same basic issue of the rights of business owners has arisen again. Only this time the question is whether businesses can choose to deny service to a customer. Several states at the time of this writing, most notably Arizona although Missouri is about to jump in the mix, are debating passing laws that absolve business owners of any liability if they choose to deny service to gay people based on moral objections. This issue has primarily been brought about by the new legality of gay marriage in many states. Businesses that revolve around the marriage industry, such as cake bakers and wedding photographers, are now being asked to service gay couples. Some are turning down this business, often on the grounds that they do not support gay marriage because of their religious beliefs. Some couples who were refused service have taken to prosecuting business owners for discriminating against them in these instances, often citing various equality or civil rights laws. Therefore the reaction by several states has been to propose new laws that are designed to protect business owners if they are exercising their right to refuse business on moral grounds. And that is where things get real sticky.

First let me state that as a human being, let alone a business owner, I do not discriminate based on a person’s sexuality. I have several clients who I believe are gay and I’ve employed people who were apparently gay. I say it in this way because I don’t really bother to ask or investigate people’s sexuality. Whether someone is gay or not is really no matter to me, especially when it comes to earning their business or having them help me service my clients. Therefore, I do not personally agree with any owner who chooses to not do business with gay people. However, I also respect their right to make that decision. Just as I respect their right to serve or not serve people based on other criteria, such as dress code, behavior, ability to pay, or if they are smokers in a non-smoking establishment. I may not agree with their decisions, but I won’t try to force my personal morality upon them. In fact, I wrote an article almost two years ago discussing this whole topic, titled Freedom, Discrimination, and Morality.

In that article I discuss the infamous Jim Crow laws as well as the equally infamous Apartheid laws of South Africa. Many gay rights advocates are claiming that proposed laws such as Arizona’s SB 1062 are the same as Jim Crow laws because they institutionalize the practice of discrimination. Again, while I disapprove of discrimination against gay people, the fact is that there is quite a bit of difference between Jim Crow laws and Arizona SB 1062. Where the new bill is purported to protect the rights of business owners to turn away business as they see fit, Jim Crow laws and Apartheid FORCED discrimination upon the population. As a business owner in those southern states, you were required to keep “separate but equal” facilities for “people of color”. Apartheid enforced similar rules. Even if you weren’t a racist, the governments required you to follow these laws, which were true examples of state-sanctioned, institutionalized discrimination. The proposed Arizona law, as well as the laws being proposed by other states, do not require businesses to turn away gay people. They simply protect business owners from prosecution under other laws in case they get sued for refusing to serve particular customers. To reiterate, I do not approve of or condone discrimination based on sexuality, but I also respect the rights of business owners to serve who they choose. Ultimately, the freedom of a business owner to run a business the way they see fit trumps any objections I have. I believe this because I believe in freedom. Others should believe this as well, if for no other reason than protecting other people’s rights is the best way to protect their own. However, this doesn’t mean people should sit quietly when they believe strongly about something. We can choose to show our objections by not supporting a business with our money and encouraging other people to do the same. Which is ultimately the best way free people can help shape society.

In fact, the history of Jim Crow laws are an interesting case study of the forces of free markets on society. After the civil war, there was a lot of racial tension. Many white landowners didn’t want to hire black workers. Many white business owners didn’t want to serve black people. However, the free market began to erode racist attitudes. Black workers who were willing to work for less enticed white land owners to hire them. Business owners who were turning away black people began to lose business to those who would serve them. Black people started running their own businesses, putting competitive pressure on other businesses to hire black people at better wages and service black people as well. It seems that “evil” profit turns out to be a greater motivator than racism. It was only after reconstruction when racists, unhappy at the way the free market was giving black people the same opportunities as white people, gained the power of a government. It was with that power that they were able to institutionalize racism through the violent force of government laws. First, they disenfranchised black voters through measures such as poll taxes. Then laws were passed that used licensing as a way to restrict black people from starting their own businesses. Regulations were created that restricted black people from owning guns and protecting themselves. And finally the Jim Crow laws were passed making racism a government-sanctioned and enforced way of life. Without the violent force of government, the free market was well on its way to minimizing racism. Institutionalized racism only endured because of big government.

In the same way today, the free market is helping reduce homophobia, regardless of proposed laws like Arizona SB 1062. These laws don’t require discrimination based on sexuality, they only claim to protect the freedom of business owners to serve who they choose. As business owners found out after the civil war, you stand to lose business to other companies that do not discriminate for bigoted reasons. We don’t need laws that force business owners to serve people – we just need government to NOT pass laws that enforce discrimination.

Before you think I am a proponent of laws like Arizona SB 1062, slow your roll. Just as I don’t want government to institutionalize discrimination, I don’t want government to pass laws that serve no purpose or are band-aids for other bad laws. There should be no reason for proposed laws to be necessary in the first place. If a business owner doesn’t want to provide service to a customer, that is their right. There should be no recourse against them as they didn’t violate anyone else’s rights. To be perfectly clear, you DO NOT have the right to make a business owner serve you. It is only because of other government regulations in force today that people think they can force others to work for them. Instead of passing new laws that seem to have the insinuation of government-sanctioned discrimination, we should be repealing those laws that allow others to sue companies and put them out of business. It simply isn’t right in a free society to force someone to work for another. If we really want to get down to it, the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawed involuntary servitude. I’m not sure if a better example exists of involuntary servitude than using the violent force of government to compel a business owner to work for someone else.

Let’s go back to my original story. I hate smoking. As part of my business, I go into a lot of people’s homes. I have thought about no longer doing business with people who smoke in their homes because I simply can’t stand the smell of cigarette smoke, not to mention the nasty residue that cigarettes leave all over the computer equipment I work on. Luckily for me, it seems that fewer and fewer people smoke in their homes anymore, so this isn’t as big of a problem as it was when I first started working in people’s homes almost 20 years ago. However, I reserve the right to refuse to service anyone who smokes if I so choose. Imagine if someone tried to sue me because I refused to serve them in their smoky homes. That would be ludicrous. Or worse, imagine if a gay smoker decided to sue me because they thought I was discriminating against them for being gay or at least spun it that way to be malicious. As it stands, I could be liable under various laws even though I’m not doing anything wrong. I’ll say it again, it is simply wrong in a free society to force someone to work for another. Disagree with that and you start running down a very slippery slope.

Imagine a gay business owner who wants to refuse service to a homophobe. Perhaps this person wants “God Hates Gays” baked on a cake or T-shirts made with that phrase. Or they want a gay photographer to take pictures of a Westboro Church Rally. The knife cuts both ways when we infringe upon business owners’ right to refuse service. Now some of you will try to rationalize this away by saying something like homophobes choose to be hateful and being gay is the way people are born so it’s not the same thing. Rationalizations work all well and good when choosing to infringe certain rights – as long as your group has political power. Rationalizations can be used against you when the other side has power. Rationalizations are the reason institutionalized discrimination has existed. Rationalizations are the reason “Separate but Equal” was allowed to exist. Be careful how you rationalize away people’s rights because your rights might be next.

I can appreciate people’s feelings getting hurt when they are discriminated against. As a hispanic person, I’ve been lucky enough to avoid most racial discrimination in my life, but I’ve held my tongue a few times when people have made racial remarks about hispanics in front of me. They obviously didn’t know my heritage and it wasn’t worth the confrontation to say something. But I’m not about to go advocate for laws forcing people to not speak their mind if they are saying things I don’t agree with. Even with laws on the books that allow me to sue people for discrimination, I would not prosecute if I faced it. Why? Because I believe in the power of free people solving their own problems and because these are the sorts of actions that lead to reactionary laws like Arizona SB 1062.

I have a self-professed bisexual friend who frequently posts on Facebook, “Love is Love and All Love is Good Love“. To those who fought and still fight to make gay marriage legal I must ask, what are you fighting for? Because if you are fighting for love, then ask yourselves this: is it love to force someone else to work for you? Is it love to force someone to do something that is against their morality? Whether or not you agree with someone’s beliefs, don’t you ask of others that your own beliefs are at least respected? You have long fought for tolerance and respect. Don’t now become the aggressors. Don’t become like the very people you have fought and continue to fight against. Everything you have worked for can come crumbling down if you use the violent force of government to enforce your morality on others, just as they have done to you for so long. If you are fighting for love, then show love to your neighbors who may not yet completely accept your way of life. Respect their beliefs as you ask them to respect yours. Ultimately, you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar. If a business chooses not to serve you, just find another that does. I have no problem if you choose not to do business with that company in the future and feel free to encourage others to not support them either. But you cross the line when you ask government to threaten a business with violence if they don’t serve you and in turn become the very people you claim to be fighting against.

In the same vein, it is certainly within people’s rights to boycott businesses that they don’t like for whatever reason. However, I would caution people like George Takei who advocate boycotting all businesses in an entire state because that state passed a law they don’t like. Guess what? There are many more businesses in that state who would not discriminate against gay people then there are who would, even if given the legal room to do so. And lots of those businesses are probably owned by gay people. Don’t do your cause a disservice by throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Target those businesses directly that have policies you don’t like, but don’t punish innocent businesses simply because their state government did something you don’t approve of.

If you truly believe in freedom you must be willing to allow others their freedom, even if you don’t agree with what they advocate. Otherwise, we are hypocritical to fight for some freedoms while denying others theirs. Freedom is Freedom and All Freedom is Good.

With that, I’ll leave you with part of the famous speech from the movie, “The American President”.

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me THAT, defend THAT, celebrate THAT in your classrooms. Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.